Students attend historic New Mexico Supreme Court appearance outside Santa Fe

LAS CRUCES – Students from Organ Mountain High and New Mexico State University had the special privilege of witnessing the New Mexico Supreme Court action on Friday as part of a program civic. It was the first time in the court’s history that arguments were heard in Las Cruces.

According to the Courts Administrative Office, it’s rare for the state’s highest court to venture outside of Santa Fe to hear oral arguments in a case. This has only happened a few times since the state was created, and never before in Las Cruces.

The state’s five judges convened in the Third Judicial District Court on Friday afternoon to hear arguments in the consolidated appeals case of State v. Torres, which involves several cases of cattle theft in Otero County. The defendants have not yet been tried.

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One defendant, Gerardo Torres, is charged with 18 counts of cattle theft. He allegedly stole 18 calves from his employer twice in 2017. The other two defendants, Kendale Hendrix and Skeeter Chadwick, are charged with 25 counts of cattle rustling. The two allegedly stole 25 unmarked cattle in a single day from a ranch in 2018.

The charges were consolidated in district court into two counts for Torres and one count each for Hendrix and Chadwick. The decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal but was later appealed to the Supreme Court.

The question before the court: “Whether lawmakers intended each stolen cow to be a separate crime or is it a crime committed by one defendant stealing multiple cattle at the same time and place,” according to a press release of the administrative office of the court.

The students were able to observe the procedure followed by petitioners and respondents when they address the judges. After formal remarks, the judges left the courtroom to deliberate on the case. They later returned and, in another rare move, announced their decision.

The Chief Justice of the New Mexico State Supreme Court announces the court's opinion after hearing oral argument in the Third Judicial District Court in Las Cruces on April 1, 2022.

Chief Justice Michael Vigil announced that the judges ruled unanimously in favor of the three men charged with stealing cattle – that is, the law meant that the theft of multiple cattle at the same time time and in the same place is considered a theft, confirming the decisions made in the two lower countries. courts.

Vigil explained that the court will, as always, issue a formal notice at a later date, but wanted the students to hear the decision before leaving. Criminal cases will also be referred to the trial courts once the opinion has been given.

Before and after the judges’ deliberations, students had the opportunity to interact with attorneys representing each side of the case. They discussed the personal motivations that led them to become lawyers, how they choose which cases to take on, how they deal with emotionally trying cases, and more.

Judges Briana Zamora and Julie Vargas also briefly joined in the discussion. Vargas said she wanted to become a judge because the decisions she makes will affect more people than when she represents clients as a lawyer. Zamora, who earned an undergraduate degree from NMSU, said she originally wanted to be a psychologist, but her interest in law was piqued when she took government courses.

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Both highlighted courage and empathy as important skills for judges and encouraged students to hone their individual skills if they wanted to enter law. They also added that New Mexico’s bar and shoals are uniquely diverse.

Former NMSU student Katelynn Goodman has said she plans to attend Arizona State University soon and wants to become a judge one day. She said before the closing argument she thought the court would side with the state. However, she was persuaded by the state’s argument to side with the defendants.

OMHS senior B’Elanna Scott, 18, said she was particularly interested in arguments because she has experience with mock trials. Scott said she plans to attend Brigham Young University after graduating from high school and also plans to go on a mission trip through The Church of Jesus Christ of Saints. Last days. As for what she wants to study, she is interested in both law and medicine, but said she would keep an open mind.

Students from Organ Mountain High School pose outside the Third Judicial District Court in Las Cruces on April 1, 2022 after watching the New Mexico State Supreme Court hear oral argument.

In the Court’s press release, Justice David Thomson explained that the aim of the Court’s rule of law program is “to help young people better understand the role of the justice system and the state of right in our constitutional democracy”. 2021, reaching approximately 600 New Mexico students.

This year, according to the press release, a historical component has been added to the program. Along with more recent cases, students and judges also discuss the US Supreme Court’s decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, which established the separate but equal doctrine on racial discrimination. This decision was eventually overturned in Brown v. Board of Education several years later.

The judges met with OMHS students on Thursday to discuss the court process. They also met with NMSU students that evening to discuss careers in the judiciary.

Educators interested in having their students participate in the Rule of Law program in April and May can contact Thomson chambers by calling 505-827-4932.

Leah Romero is the Trending Reporter for the Las Cruces Sun-News and can be reached at 575-418-3442, or @rromero_leah on Twitter.

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